Folk at the Chapel
The old Methodist Chapel at Newbold on Avon in the last couple of years has taken on a new lease of life. My grandmother who used to worship there in the early to mid 20th century would not recognise the place other than from the outside. The concert held there on 14th October 2016 was the first after it's recent refurbishment. to make the place more accessible for the wheelchair bound. This chapel is much more than a church, it is a community centre for the village and a lovely intimate concert venue.
This intimacy come not just from the size of the place, but that the concerts there held under the banner of Folk On The Water are partially candle lit. These concerts have been happening for a couple of years now and acts from all over the country, indeed the world, love performing there. Musicians such as, Roxanne de Bastion, Daria Kulesh, Jack Blackman, Fred's House any many more have all played there. The format of the concerts is to provide a trio of performers, firstly a young person just starting out on their career, a locally well-known performer usually from somewhere in the UK Midlands and finally an internationally recognised act, often listed in the Daily Telegraph top 100 folk acts. All for a door ticket price of £5.00 - less than the cost of a packet of fags.
This concert was no exception. The opener was Kelliemarie Willis who I reviewed only last week. This incredible girl so impressed the other performers on the bill. Even in the space of a week I noticed the difference in her confidence. Her musical ability I almost take for granted now and it is easy to forget what a shock it is to see and hear her for the first time. This thirteen year old happily chats to the audience in a quite unaffected way and she is not afraid to change things on the night. I noticed that more than one of her songs, (which are mostly self penned) were subtly different from other nights that I have seen her. She obviously takes notes well, her enunciation was much improved and the ending of her songs were somehow more melodic. Her voice is getting stronger as she matures and her lyrics belie her youth. Her final song (about her Mum) illustrates her cognizance of things that many her age would not, the line "when I see the tears in your eyes" is not a sentiment that I recognise in the usual characterisation of a teenage girl. I shall continue to take note of Kelliemarie's development which is due in no short measure to the coaching she receives from Big Help Music Academy, more news of which is coming in a special feature in Hot Music Live Magazine in the next few weeks.
The second act on the bill was Floot Street, a traditional instrumental band. Two members of which are from Scotland and therefore keen to promote Celtic music in this modern age. Their normal line up is as a quintet, but sadly they were slightly depleted by a variety of circumstances to a trio on this occasion. If Ewan Cameron had not disclosed this fact, none of the audience would have been any the wiser. This time, he concentrated mainly on playing the low whistle to the accompaniment of Nicky Grant on Violin and Dan Bones on guitar. Normally they would also have had Alan Brunier on accordion and Luke Jones on percussion. Some of their music has the most intriguing titles. "Inspector Donald Campbell of Ness" and "Lady Dorothea Stuart's Wedding March" are two such. Indeed much Celtic music seems to be written for the celebration of nuptials, "Scotland Lane" is another. Their repertoire is mostly of Jigs and Reels which exemplify having a jolly good time. But occasionally they depart into more lilting fare, Farley Bridge had a soothing effect of those present. Some tunes had a surprising history. When Nicky announced they were going to play a theme tune from the children's TV show, "The Clangers" a few eyebrows were raised, but as she said, it turned out to be a cracking good tune, entitled "The Soup Dragon". It soon had feet tapping all round the room. For their antipenultimate number, they were joined by Ewan's daughter, Rachel Louise to sing "Bluebird". This song written by Christina Perri had some plaintiff lyrics, " How the hell does a broken heart get back together when it's torn apart?" the emotion of which Rachel conveyed in a very convincing way. The band do not normally have a vocalist and Rachel's, lovely tones added to their musicality. Ewan picked up his guitar for this song leaving Dan to provide a very fine counterpoint to the vocal on his. Speaking to Dan after the show, I learned that he welcomed Rachel's involvement in that it was good to mix things up a bit. The three instrumentalists continued their set with a tribute to Nicky's mother, who was the first woman in Scotland to join a pipe band. This is where Lady Dorothea and her wedding march came in. The concluding tune(s) were two Jigs under the general heading of "Superfury" which as might be expected from that, were very lively and demonstrated each participant's dexterity on their instruments. A full sound not at all inhibited by the absence of two of their number. It was a pleasure to be so well entertained by such skilled musicians.
The term international when applied to artists of any persuasion is often misused, but in the case of the Anglo-Irish alt-folk duo The Portraits, aka husband and wife songwriters Jeremy and Lorraine Millington from Bristol and Galway respectively, this definitely not the case. They really have performed all over the world. Furthermore now living in Cornwall, they would be regarded by some of their neighbours as international travellers the moment they step over the border into Devon, or "England" as it is known on the far side of the Tamar. The Portraits write all of their own songs taking inspiration from their own life experiences. They are deeply involved with a school run by a Buddhist Monk in northern Myanmar (aka Burma) indeed their lives seem to hinge around providing funds for this educational enclave in a country where deprivation is the norm. Their first song glories in the optimistic title of "Good things, (come to those who wait)" This was directly inspired by the life of Aung San Suu Kyi who spent fifteen years under house arrest when the military would not accept her election win as valid. She is now a senior member of the government. Their second song illustrates the exploitation of children who instead of receiving an education are forced to work in menial tasks in this case the song "Bago Girl" tells the story of a little girl who they saw heaving big baskets of crab apples around on her head. These probably weighed more than the girl herself and she had to have assistance to get the things on her head in the first place. They carry around with them in their fund raising efforts a large photograph of the girl in the gutter of a Burman street.
All this sounds as though their music is all about depressing matters and likely to be dour and sad. This is far from the case, Jeremy's keyboard, (still spattered with Glastonbury mud by the way) and Lorraine's guitar carry their audience along at a cracking pace. That said, the subject matter of their songs is sometimes shocking. "Crossfire" is about a young boy who was found under a pile of bodies, whose words on being pulled out were "They forgot I was here", a truly heart wrenching moment.
Their world travels have often taken them to South Africa, where the current regime seem to be determined to eradicate any emblems and physical entities illustrating the country's past difficulties. Jeremy takes the view that the monuments should remain in order that future generations may learn from what has gone before and not to have "Tore Up The Past" This song is evocative of South African music having the rhythms and feel of the music of the townships. I am finding it difficult to convey what a cheerful and upbeat couple The Portraits are, it would seem that their chosen subjects are of the most depressing kind. They are masters of playing with the audience's emotions, they can seduce you into a moment of reverie with dream like music over which stark lyrics such as "hoping someone will care" hit you with unexpected force.
That said there were happier themes, the birth of their son motivated Jeremy when walking out into the moonlight with the newly born baby in his arms, to write "Moon Song". The lyrics of this song are true poetry and would stand with any contemporary composition. There is too much that energised and stirred the audience by their set in this concert to record here. Despite what you have might read into this review, they are an optimistic pair and thoroughly entertain their audience. If you haven't seen them already, you may have missed your chance at least for a while for within the next two weeks they are embarking on a world tour taking their home schooled children with them. What fortunate kids they are having two wonderful parents who indeed will inform, educate and entertain them, perhaps they too will be inspired by what they see around them. If you want to know more, check out the website www.facebook.com/theportraitsmusic/ or www.theportraitsmusic.com and maybe donate to the Burma school fund, details of how to do that will be found on those pages.
A little more about the venue. The minister, Rev Jane Gaffney is to be congratulated on collecting around her a team of volunteers who make a small village church so much more. It is so completely a part of the community, having, for example an "Honesty Shop" where the hard up can "buy" food for a donation of what they can afford, and twice a month, put on a three course hot meal for those who need it and for anyone else prepared to make suggested donation of £2.50 all the proceeds are invested back into the provision of such a wonderful facility of which the ordinary people of the district can make use. Part of this is also providing a superb, intimate concert venue. These concerts are run by Big Help Music under the Folk On The Water banner on the second Friday of every month through to the start of the summer festival season. drop in and have an enjoyable evening of live (mostly folk/rock) music of international standard.